If you’ve ever dreamed of opening your own business, then it’s a good idea to pick the brains of people who have been there and done it. What inspired them in the first place? What keeps them going? How do they deal with adversity?
A career in recruitment offers you the opportunity to run your own business within a business, especially at WRS where the Consultants are a pretty entrepreneurial bunch. And spearheading it all are WRS’s founding Directors - the Managing Director, Mark Brown, and Operations Director, Francis Dunleavy. I grabbed them for a chat to understand more about them and their ambitions for the future of the company.
Me: Hi both, thanks for joining me for a quick chat. To start with, tell me a bit about your backgrounds.
Mark: My background was call centre management, working for companies including Hertz and Xerox. Work took me to Ireland and I was migrating call centre operations to a centralised office in Dublin. This involved using recruitment agencies and I first realised how poor some of them are, which planted a seed. When I came back to England in 2001, I set up a recruitment agency with a colleague who I’d met in Dublin. We were focusing on recruitment for call centres in the travel industry when, guess what happened? 9/11. We ripped up the business plan and found a new niche in recruiting for the mortgage industry. I parted ways with my business partner and had a successful few years, growing the business (KCMB) to 18 staff and £1.5m turnover. Then what happened? Global recession! Basically I’ve been faced with adversity my entire recruitment life!
Francis: Very simple - 10 years in financial services with CIS and Natwest until I decided I’d had enough. I knew a lad who earnt loads of money and wondered what he did – turns out it was recruitment. I started with S3, becoming top biller in the North West and ranked in the top 10 in the country. I worked for 2 years as a Divisional Manager before being given the opportunity to take on Leap 29 which was a struggling at the time. I grew Leap from 5 to 140 staff and £3m net profit. After I left, I took a 6 month sabbatical weighing up options. I was actually thinking of going into property development when I met Mark and the rest is history.
Me: How did you meet?
Mark: We met through a mutual contact who used to work with Fran. I can’t remember exactly how it came about but I heard Fran was leaving Leap 29 and we went from there.
Me: When you set up WRS, what did you envisage the culture would be like? Do you feel you’ve achieved this?
Francis: A family style culture, supportive with a professional edge. We wanted to create a collaborative business environment with a family feel, but ultimately to be recognised as professional and polished in terms of the service we deliver.
Me: And do you feel you’ve achieved it?
Francis: Well what do you think?
Francis: Well, exactly. I mean it could always be improved, we’re not perfect, but yes. It’s about getting the balance right and we firmly believe that if we treat people well, it will be reciprocated.
Me: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since setting up WRS?
Mark: Working with Fran!
Francis: What about not doing a deal for the first 6 months?
Mark: Yeah. Breaking into overseas markets, securing funding. Biggest one is probably breaking into overseas markets.
Me: If you could go back and tell the 2008 version of yourself something, what would it be?
Francis: Make difficult decisions more quickly. And combine gut instinct and due diligence to make decisions.
Mark: Go global quickly. I don’t think we did it quickly enough, we didn’t particularly have a strategy in place for how to grow in our market. We grew the business by head count when we should have had a strategic plan in place for expansion, considered more where to grow and how to do it.
Me: Do you feel you have this now?
Mark: Yes, we’ve got clear strategic direction now for the UK and overseas, and very good advisory support from our non-exec board which includes John Walker, Brian Young and Rod Savage.
Me: What are you most proud of achieving with WRS over the last 7 years?
Mark: For me it was the Queen or Branson!
Francis: ‘Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For’ for me, when we placed 18th. I think that was an important one because it’s measuring staff satisfaction which is very important to me and gave me the most satisfaction.
Mark: Yes, aiming for top ten next! From my side, it was the Queen's Award [for Enterprise in International Trade] or the Virgin Fast Track 100 Award that were the biggest milestones.
Me: What’s the next goal for the company?
Mark: It’s got to be the £100m turnover – that’s the next major landmark we’re working towards.
Francis: Yes, and increased international expansion as well.
Me: What advice would you pass on to a Trainee Consultant starting in recruitment today?
Francis: Very simple, application and attitude. There’s no secret, it’s just about hard work. And become an expert in what you do.
Mark: You asked me before what I would tell my 2008 self. Well, a Recruitment Consultant in their second or third year should go back and thank the first year Recruitment Consultant version of themselves for all the hard work. In year 1 it’s like building a business: it will be tough and take a lot of graft. It’s not going to be achievable if you’re just doing a 9 to 5. And on top of that, like Fran says, learn your market.
Me: Thanks for your time! So there you go, an insight into the minds of two of WRS’ directors!
If this inspires you to get into recruitment and join us as we continue to expand, then give me a call on 0161 926 4649 or drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.